St. Jacobs Farmers' Market re-opens with 300 customer limit, no hot food vendors

The St. Jacobs Farmers' Market has re-opened with new precautions in place. The outdoor market area opened on Thursday, with the lower level of the market building following suit Saturday.

Come with a shopping list, get what you need and get out, recommend staff

Masks aren't mandatory for shoppers this weekend at St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, but expect to see vendors and staff wearing them in tight spaces where physical distancing isn't possible, says market manager Leanne McGray.   (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

The St. Jacobs Farmers' Market is re-opening with new precautions in place. The outdoor market area opened on Thursday, with the lower level of the market building following suit Saturday.

As is the case for many food businesses starting to re-emerge slowly from the pandemic, St. Jacobs Market is taking it one step at a time. 

About 100 people came through the gates within the first 45 minutes on Thursday. 

"We have a plan in place and we're plugging our way through it. We're going to see how it goes in terms of safety," said market manager Leanne McGray. 

There is now fencing and directional arrows meant to enhance wayfinding, along with widened spaces for physical distancing, parking lot closures and chances to building entrance to try to control pedestrian traffic. 

Fewer vendors, no apple fritters

The biggest change, though, is fewer vendors and no food court.

"We would normally have up to 70 vendors outside at this time of the year and have 200 permanent vendors who operate year-round," said McGray. 

Instead, there will be about 55 vendors outside and between 25 and 30 inside. Those figures are, in part, seasonally driven: the outside number will increase as more farmers are ready to harvest and sell their produce. 

While some vendors have closed shop, many have either moved to online sales or partnered with other retailers.

Public health restrictions mean food court-style vendors will not be open. So, that means no famous hot apple fritters. 

"There will be bakery items and items like savoury pastries, but nothing can be heated to consume on-site," said McGray. 

McGray also said there are no immediate plans to hold the traditional summer Tuesday market; they plan to stick with only the two Thursday and Saturday offerings for now. 

The market, which calls itself Canada's largest year-round market, is no stranger to adversity. In 2013 it suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed the main market building. Within two years a new structure had been built, the market recovered and flourished.

Given the pandemic, this closure could be more daunting to overcome. 

300 shoppers, no ambling

The open, free-flow of people that characterizes a farmers' market has, understandably, been altered: fencing has been erected, and controlled access points allow market officials to count customers coming and going to maintain a safe number. 

The number of customers allowed in a business is a calculation based on square meters of space. The Market area is roughly 1.5 hectares (about 3.5 acres): this week market officials said they would admit 300 people at a time — a number below the allowable threshold. 

"We've chosen to operate under-capacity for the first little while to see what it's going to be like," McGray said. 

Even with the extra space, customers are urged to refrain from ambling along and browsing the food stalls. Instead, McGray says they would like customers to come with a shopping list.

"Think where you need to go so you can shop efficiently and thoughtfully and not wander aimlessly," she said. "We have to change right now. We want people to be a bit quicker." 

There is a 300-person customer limit for the time being at the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)
 Even with reduced traffic, outdoor vendor booths will be spaced about six meters apart. "Lots of room for line-ups and people waiting while ordering," said McGray.

Masks are not mandatory for customers. Vendors will wear them if they can't physically distance in their booth and market staff will be masked if they are working closely together. 

Tour decline

Both the Market administration and the vendors are concerned that there will be fewer visitors and none of the large tourist crowds that visit the St. Jacobs area from overseas. 

Over the course of a normal market week, St. Jacobs Market would see upwards of 10,000 visitors, according to McGray. 

Now market stakeholders are hoping for a strong bump in local tourism, especially when it is less crowded. 

"I think we'll see a nice switch with our local shoppers wanting to support the Market in this environment." 

More markets

The St. Jacobs Market is open Thursdays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The best way to enter is off King Street, near Peddlar's Village. 

The Kitchener Market will re-open at 7 a.m. on June 13 with limited customer capacity, a limited number of food vendors; and the upstairs food hall remains closed. 

The Cambridge Farmers' Market re-opens June 27, also with limited customer capacity. 


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